Merry Christmas ! to you and your family. This is a small collection of Christmas
Carols I put together a few years ago. I
love the old reverent carols and I am sure some of them were truly inspired. During the Christmas season, it seems like
the Christian faith is not so much celebrated as it is undermined by Santa
Claus, Jingle Bells, drunken parties
and expensive presents for everyone except Jesus, on the occasion of the
commemoration of the Most Important Birthday in History. It is hard to find a way to celebrate
Christmas properly in the middle of all the pagan junk that now surrounds
it. But putting up a manger scene at
least provides some competition for the Christmas tree. And the carols remind us of what it is really
last few years I have given a lot of thought to proper Christian
ceremonies. They are necessary for
reminding ourselves and teaching our children about the Christian faith. I was raised in the Catholic Church where
they pay a lot of attention to ceremonies--too much perhaps, and not enough
attention to other matters. Salvation
through proper ceremony.
ceremonies are important. You have to
have a birthday cake and sing Happy
Birthday when your child's birthday comes around. And ceremonies remind us of the major events
of our Christian faith. Unfortunately we
have come to celebrate Christmas with drunken parties and waiting for Santa
Claus. Easter has to do with the Easter
Bunny and colored eggs. These things may
be fun for children but they do not give teenagers and adults the moral and
spiritual grounding they need to persevere in the Christian life. It also creates confusion. The question of whether you still believe in
Jesus Christ is entangled with the question of whether you still believe in
you for inviting me to the seder last
Easter. The food was wonderful and the
company was charming. But it did push me
to some further thinking about Christian ceremonies, past, present and future,
especially as they revolve around the major Christian celebrations of Christmas
and Easter. I know a lot of Christians
today are looking for some sort of unity with Judaism and that messianic Jewish tradition seems to be
the source of your seder
service. It is an attempt to synthesize
Jewish and Christian beliefs and practices.
But we have to question whether Judaism and Christianity work that well
together, whether they are equal faiths, whether essentials of the Christian faith
are not lost sight of in this synthesis.
not sure I entirely agree with those who see serious spiritual danger in
letting kids dress up as ghosts, goblins and witches etc. to go out trick or treating on Halloween. But I do see danger in letting pagan myths
and practices predominate in the way in which we celebrate major Christian
holidays. In respect to the seder, the question is how far we can
mix Judaism with Christianity. That was
a major problem in the early church as witness the Council described in Acts 15
and the letters of Paul. And it is still
a major problem.
century later, there were still Jewish Christians who rejected the writings of
Saint Paul because of his negative attitude towards The Law of the old covenant:
No one is saved by The Law. It is notable that Justin Martyr ignores the
epistles of Saint Paul. Early church
fathers insisted, just as Saint Paul did, that Christian belief was a
substantial departure from Judaism as defined by the Jewish religious
establishment. You could accurately
describe Jesus as the first Reform Rabbi--and the only one with the divine
right to do it. He certainly did not
leave Judaism as he found it. So
Ignatius of Antioch writes to the Magnesians (8,9) about the year 110 AD, just
before he was martyred in Rome: Do not be led astray by wrong views or by
outmoded tales that count for nothing. (apocryphal
Jewish legends and allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament) For if
we still go on observing Judaism, we admit we never received grace. The divine prophets themselves lived Christ
Jesus' way. That is why they were
persecuted, for they were inspired by his grace to convince unbelievers that
God is one and that he has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, who is his
Word issuing from the silence and who won the complete approval of him who sent
Those then who lived by ancient practices arrived at a new hope. They ceased to keep the Sabbath and lived by
the Lord's Day, on which our life as well as theirs shone forth, thanks to Him
and his death . . . 10.3 For
Christianity did not believe in Judaism but Judaism in Christianity.
his letter to the brethren at Philadelphia (5,6) Ignatius makes a basic
distinction between the prophets and the
old religion of Judaism: And the Prophets, let us love them too,
because they anticipated the gospel in their preaching and hoped for and
awaited Him, and were saved by believing on Him. Thus they were in Jesus Christ's unity. Saints they were, and we should love and
admire them, seeing that Jesus Christ vouched for them and they form a real
part of the gospel of our common hope.
6 Now, if anyone preaches Judaism
to you, pay no attention to him. For it
is better to hear about Christianity from one of the circumcision than Judaism
from a Gentile. If both, moreover, fail
to talk about Jesus Christ, they are to me tombstones and graves of the dead,
on which only human names are inscribed.
we have today is worse than what Ignatius had to contend with. Modern TV evangelists relentlessly promote an
end times scenario which is all
mixed up with Zionism and Israeli Nationalism.
People are taught to believe that the ultimate aim of the Christian life
is somehow tied up with sending more jet planes and missiles to Israel. Hagee teaches his congregation to believe that
they will be raptured just in time to watch Armageddon
from some heavenly balcony. He also
preaches militarism and millionaire Christianity. Jesus had a mansion, so should you. He describes his faith as Christian Zionism and many of the TV
evangelists share it.
When is Elijah Coming ?
a Christian has to base a Passover Seder primarily upon the four
gospel accounts of the Passover held
by Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles the night before He was crucified. If you depart very much from those accounts,
you are on very doubtful ground. The
service you used does bring in items from the four gospels. But it mixes them in with items that are not
found in the gospels. And it leaves out
much of what is actually found in the gospel accounts of the Passover or The Last Supper as it was later called.
a place and leaving a chair for Elijah may be fun for the kids, but it
displaces what Jesus taught in Matthew 17.10-13: Then
why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come ? He replied, Elijah does come, and he is to
restore all things; but I tell you that
Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever
they pleased. So also the Son of man
will suffer at their hands. Then the
disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. Does not this information from Jesus himself
about the coming of Elijah have to replace the old Jewish belief about the
coming of Elijah ?
further question is about another Missing Person, Jesus himself. Since He was the most important person at the
seder described in the gospels, Christians can hardly commemorate Passover
without giving Jesus the central place.
Would it be appropriate to set a place and leave an empty chair for
Jesus ? I don't think so, but it would
Raise the Right Question as to Where He Is in relation to this gathering. Is He up in heaven now ? Is He coming next year to Jerusalem ? He was supposed to have shown up there back
in 2000. A lot of evangelical Christians
seem to believe that our primary relationship with Jesus Christ is the
expectation that He will soon return in the flesh and restore the Kingdom of
Israel. I think these beliefs are
mistaken and create a serious spiritual problem in that many Christians do not
know where to find Jesus Christ. They
think He is Coming when, in fact, like Elijah,
He is already here as the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
They are ready to go up and meet Him when He comes in the clouds. Meanwhile, they forget to meet him down here
where he told us to meet him in Matthew 25.31-46. They ignore the plain teaching of John
20.21-22 which entrusted the Mission
of Jesus to his first followers while making them in effect clones of
Jesus. Is Jesus Coming ? Isn't He already
here as the Holy Spirit ?
bread and wine
Catholic commemoration of the Passover seder of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday
centers around the bread and wine ceremony, as does every Catholic Mass. Of course that pushes you into 500 years of
argument about the Real Presence; who
can consecrate; who can receive; and what it means to call Him the Lamb of
God. A basic belief of Catholics is that
your primary relationship with Jesus Christ is tied to the consecrated
bread. When Mel Gibson was filming The Passion, they had a Latin Mass every
day and the movie is full of juxtapositions which tie the Crucifixion of Jesus
Christ--whereby we are Saved from our Sins--to the reception of the body and blood. And the result is that Mel Gibson can have a
relationship with Jesus just by regularly going to mass and communion even
while he continues to live the life of a Hollywood millionaire in his gated
mansion and continues to make movies like Braveheart,
The Patriot and We Were Soldiers, which contain doctrines not to be found in the
you do have to acknowledge that the passover
seder--the Last Supper--was immediately followed by the Crucifixion and so
there is an immediate connection between
the pouring of the wine at the Last Supper--this
is my blood of the new covenant--and the shedding of the blood of Jesus
before sundown of the following day.
Catholic churches used to have a treori
service from noon to 3 PM on Good Friday,
centering upon The Stations of the Cross. It did move people to re-live The
Passion. Since non Catholic Christians
flocked to see The Passion they might
seriously consider reviving the treori
service. In fact you can make the
Stations of the Cross any time using the little booklet which shows them: Jesus
is condemned to death . . . Jesus meets the sorrowful women of Jerusalem . . .
Jesus falls the first time.
think there is an obsessive emphasis on The
Eucharist in the Catholic Church which came about historically because they
lost the Holy Spirit. They lost track of
the primary way in which we have a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. Then this exaggerated emphasis on the bread
and wine leads to a further ceremony in which the consecrated bread is
displayed on the altar and people are encouraged to worship the bread
itself. As a boy, I thought of my
personal relationship with Jesus Christ as consisting of the minute it took for
the communion wafer to dissolve in my mouth.
We were taught not to chew it.
And I didn't because it seemed to show an indecent haste to cut short
the moment I was spending with Jesus.
Another basic problem with the Roman Catholic Church is setting up The
Pope as the Vicar of Christ. Aren't all
real Christians supposed to be the vicars of Christ ? Even the clones
of Jesus Christ, who have put on Christ
as Paul says. And we put him on only if we do actually
Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. cf.
see a similar displacement among the evangelicals in which reciting a Salvation
formula: I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior replaces both the bread
and wine ceremony and any question as to whether those who count themselves
Saved have in fact received the Holy Spirit.
Do they show that Spirit of Truth, Love and Courage which the first followers
of Jesus had ? Do they have the Courage
to Bear Witness to the Truth ? In fact
they use their main doctrine about Jesus as the excuse to avoid bearing witness
and to neglect the Works of Mercy enjoined upon us in Matthew 25.31-46. They have entirely lost track of their
personal obligation to take in the homeless person.
is important to ask and answer basic questions about The Lord's Supper--the
Eucharist or Communion. I have not
thoroughly researched the practices and beliefs of the early church in respect
to it, but I have come across references while doing other research. It does appear that the early church had a
weekly gathering (at least) in which the bread and wine ceremony was the
central ritual and that this was followed by a common meal. Of course they had a real community which got
together on a regular basis, even on a daily basis. They shared meals and houses etc. Modern so called Christians tend to lack
anything that can properly be called a community
and live their lives apart from one another except for the weekly service. Which makes it difficult to have common meals
and a community which comes together on that basis. Which would naturally memorialize the last
time Jesus sat down to eat with us. Communion and community naturally go together and the loss of one leads to the
loss of the other.
the Catholic Church, only an ordained priest has the power to consecrate the
bread and wine. And that doctrine had
important political repercussions.
Luther challenged that with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and with another doctrine which
says in effect that the body of Jesus Christ is in everything already, not just
the bread and wine. The arguments about
this may be vexing but it does have to be decided as to what is going on--as to
how important the bread and wine--the body and blood of Jesus--is to living the
Christian life. I am not convinced that
an officially ordained priest has to consecrate the bread and wine but neither
am I comfortable with ceremonies in which it is assumed that anyone can do
it. Jesus did say do this in memory of me. But it is a serious question as to which of
us can presume that he was speaking to us.
The youngest child may be the right person to ask the passover questions, but not to stand in
for Jesus as the one who consecrates
the bread and the wine. The early
Christian congregation seems to have had a presider. I don't see a moral or theological problem
with having everyone recite the words of consecration together. But I am not entirely comfortable in taking
on the role which was always reserved for the priest.
don't know that you have to ask and answer the question as to whether the bread
and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Christ, whether it is real or just symbolical. Since Jesus did
it and told us to do it in memory of me,
that would seem reason enough to go ahead and do it without a lot of argument
about what is obviously a great mystery, however you look at it.
there is the practical question as to who should be allowed to receive the
bread and wine and under what conditions.
In the early church, new converts were apparently not allowed to
participate in the sacraments until they had been fully instructed in the
Christian faith. The modern church tends
to welcome all and sundry to communion.
Of course, if it is a just a ceremony, and there is no reality behind
it, there is no reason to be uptight about letting everyone participate. But if it is at the heart of the Christian
mystery it is not something to be treated casually. There is the further question as to how
central and important the bread and wine ceremony is to the Christian
faith. As a practical matter, should it
be held once a week or once a year ? Or
even daily, as with Catholic practice.
Political Liberty or Spiritual Freedom
theme of the Jewish Passover is the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew people
from Egyptian slavery. But this theme is
missing from what Jesus talks about at the Last Supper. You might expect that He would connect the
earlier liberation of the Jewish nation with the liberation from sin which He
means to bring about. But He
doesn't. And there are some obvious
reasons for it. The Jewish nation had
long since lost its liberty. For
centuries it had remained the conquered province of a series of empires. Jews were conscripted into the Roman army and
sold into slavery if they could not pay the tribute. And Jesus shows no interest in restoring the
liberty of the Jewish nation. He actually
refuses to be the Messiah they hoped for, the warrior king who would liberate
the Jewish people from the Roman yoke.
That is a basic reason why Jesus was rejected by the Jews of his own time, and why He was
crucified. Thirty years later, the Jews
followed false messiahs in a rebellion against the Romans. A million perished, Jerusalem was destroyed
and The Temple was leveled--just as Jesus had prophesied.
Israel today there are patriotic cults surrounding these failed rebels. But Israel is as hostile as ever to the most
famous Jew of all time. And, in terms of
Jewish nationalism, they have a good case against Jesus. He not only refused to lead them to Freedom,
He was instrumental in the Destruction of Jerusalem, and its Temple and the
dispersal of the Jewish people all over the world--as they are still. So Jesus can hardly be presented as the
liberator of the Jewish people, following in the foot steps of Moses as it
were. He was obviously NOT the new
Moses in respect to leading them out of the bondage of the Roman yoke as
Moses had led them out of the bondage of the Egyptian yoke. Imagine Jesus drinking to next year in Jerusalem at the Last
Supper when he anticipated being put to death in Jerusalem the very next day,
when He had refused to be their king and when he had prophesied the destruction
of Jerusalem and its Temple.
Jesus says other things contra the belief in Jerusalem as the center of our
faith. In John 4.21-23 he tells the
Samaritan woman that the hour cometh, and
now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, and that this is neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem. Our faith is no longer tied to Israel nor
centered upon Jerusalem. In fact
Christianity had spread far and wide by the time Jerusalem and its Temple were
destroyed in 70 AD as Jesus had also prophesied. He defines the Kingdom of God in such a way that it has to be entirely independent
of the Kingdom of Israel. In a number of
passages He shows that the Kingdom he preached was not the Kingdom of Israel
restored, that the gentiles would flock into it while most of the Jews
themselves were cast out from it. Which
explains why He himself refused to become the King of Israel.
TV evangelists and their foolish flocks have a religious faith in American
nationalism which has become tied into a religious faith in Israeli
nationalism. But Jesus was the exact
opposite of an Israeli nationalist. His
life, his teaching and his death on a cross in Jerusalem destroyed the nation
of Israel and replaced it with a new nation, as 1 Peter 2.9-10 says.
does not seem to care at all about that political freedom which is central to the American faith. He refused to do what he could have done on
behalf of the Independence of
Israel. So it is hazardous to try and
include Him in a service which is focused on political freedom and that
national independence, which requires
endless wars and endless patriotic lies to justify the wars. He showed no interest in that political freedom which supposedly gives us our
primary spiritual identity as Americans.
He preached a very different definition of freedom: You shall know the truth and the truth shall
make you free.
slaves and servants
The seder service emphasizes that no one
should serve himself because we are now free and no longer slaves. That does not fit in very well with one of
the most startling ceremonies of the Last Supper in which Jesus girded himself
with a towel and insisted upon washing the feet of his apostles, while telling
them that they must follow the example he has given and serve one another.
is difficult to find authentic Christian ceremonies. I do believe that the truth of the church is
best expressed in authentic ceremonies and vice versa, that preserving or
reviving authentic ceremonies is one essential way to preserve and revive an
authentic Christian faith.
seem to be living in exile from the church.
Because I don't know where to find it.
I don't seem to be able to find it, despite a lot of looking. I am trying to re discover it, at least in
theory, through true history and true
theology. Which tend to be the same
subject to the degree that you can re discover the theology of the early church
through serious historical research.
With the assistance of the Spirit of Truth--I don't see how else you can
I am trying to re discover it as best I can here and now among those who are
still serious about living a Christian life.
I know that describes you. Your
situation is more difficult than mine in that you are trying to raise a
Christian family without the support of that Church community you had a few
years ago. I have to be thankful that I
do not have to meet the challenge of keeping teen age children on the right
path amid all the seductions of this post Christian society.
fact, I find it hard to see how anyone can raise a Christian family without
joining the Amish or some such. Or at
least moving some place where there is no TV.
The VCR gives you some control over it, but the regular channels are
moral poison. The best defense is a good
offense but where can you find the positive pole in today's society ?
I know you are interested in these subjects, while you struggle to raise a
Christian family in a society which is often at war with that aim. I wish you and yours the best for the new